As the bunch of bikers stepped into the small department store, the clientele inside weren't sure what was about to happen, but one thing was certain: These rebels had a cause.
Rick Carlyle was dressed in a leather jacket and faded blue jeans. He ran his hand over his bushy mustache while slowly surveying his surroundings, then abruptly broke the silence by shouting, "All right let's clean 'em out!"
However, this group of motorcycle enthusiasts weren't there to grab cash from the register, but rather were there to put cash into it in the name of charity.
It was all part of the Kenai Peninsula ABATE (Alaskan Bikers Advocating Training and Educa-tion) efforts to provide toys and clothing to needy children during the holidays.
"We do this to support the kids in the community," said Carlyle, the bike club's vice president. "It really makes us feel good to make the community a better place.
"Toys for Tots is a good organization, but it's national. So giving to it here on the peninsula doesn't serve the peninsula," he said. "We wanted to spend the money we raised through the year right here on the peninsula and make sure that money went right back into the community."
The bikers typically raise be-tween $3,000 and $5,000 for their annual charity through pull-tabs, charity rides and other fund-raisers, but this year they far exceed any past total.
ABATE member Scott Hamann carries out one of several dozen boxes of clothes.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
"We raised $10,242.33 this year," Carlyle said. "Our original goal was set for $6,000, but we got the spirit. We started scraping and transferring all the extra money we could. Our attitude was we can do a little more. Then once we got rolling, it just kept picking up speed until we were broke."
Although ABATE members donated an enormous amount of their own time and money to the charity, Carlyle said what they accomplished wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of area businesses as well.
"I can't say enough about the stores here on the peninsula," he said. "Sweeney's bent over backward for us, Beemun's opened up on their day off, Gottchalks gave us major discounts, Trustworthy Hardware was great and Martin Mines in the Peninsula Center Mall really took care of us."
Carlyle said between the discounts stores gave them and the group's thrifty shopping skills, they were able to save as much as 80 percent on some merchandise.
But that's not to say that the kids were getting anything but the best brand names.
"Sorel boots, Carhartt jackets and bibs, gloves, you name it," Carlyle said. "We went heavy on the winter clothes this year because The Salvation Army said clothing is what the parents have been requesting."
Craig Fanning, envoy at The Salvation Army in Kenai, was nothing short of flabbergasted with ABATE's charity.
"It was a tremendous donation," Fanning said. "I can't tell you what a big boost this is for us. Donations have been down and we were really feeling the crunch. We were getting concerned as to if we would have enough products to give out."
Fanning said The Salvation Army will start distributing the items donated by the bikers to needy families that have signed up for their "Toy and Joy Shop Program" today.
Fanning said he thought the ABATE men and women were "tremendous folks," and offered up a bit of advice for anyone who would hastily judge a book by its cover.
"Bikers as a whole get a bad wrap because of a few bad apples," he said. "A few of the guys may look a little rough, but they're really nice guys with hearts of gold."
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